DURHAM — Bryse Wilson had a triumphant homecoming last week. It just wasn’t the one he’d prepared for.
Born in Durham and a graduate of Orange High School in Hillsborough, Wilson was expecting to start the nightcap of a doubleheader at the DBAP, as his Gwinnett team played the hometown Durham Bulls.
Instead, two days before the game, he got an unexpected phone call.
“It was around noon,” he said. “I was in Gwinnett and was not expecting it at all.”
The news: Wilson was getting the call to the major leagues to start the following day’s game.
“I went home, packed a suitcase and showed up at the field,” he said. He also made a phone call to cancel plans in North Carolina. “I called (his parents, Chad and Tracey) right when I found out,” he said. “They were able to get a flight and get up there that morning.”
The short notice may have actually helped Wilson. He was in such a rush to get to the game, which was in Pittsburgh, that he didn’t have much time to worry about the significance of what was happening.
“I think it helped, for sure,” he said. “I couldn’t stress about it too much or have too much anxiety. I think it was good.”
The call-up capped his remarkable rise through the Braves organization. Wilson started the year at Class A Florida. After going 2-0 in five starts with a 0.34 ERA, he earned promotions to Double-A Mississippi and then Triple-A Gwinnett, where he won all three of his starts before getting called up to the majors, giving him starts at all four levels of the organization this year.
Wilson also reached the big leagues just two years after getting drafted in the fourth round out of high school.
“I’ve been all over the place,” he said of his busy year. “It’s been fun, getting to hang out with different guys, getting to meet different people and pitch against different talent along the way. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve learned lot of lessons on how to pitch and been able to progress as a player.”
One of those lessons has been on perfecting his change-up, a pitch that came in handy during his MLB debut.
“It’s been good,” he said after the game. “Tonight, it was really good. I got a strikeout or two with it, got some ground balls. It was really good tonight. Hopefully, I keep progressing with it.”
Wilson arrived at PNC Park in Pittsburgh and had time for a meeting with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez about how to approach big league hitters.
“We talked about it a little bit with Chuck,” he said. “He said to just come in, try to establish my fastball and then mix in my off-speed stuff. And that’s what we were able to do.”
Then it was game time, and suddenly, the moment began to sink in for the 20-year-old.
“I got really nervous during warmups and everything,” he said. “Then, when I got there and started throwing, I was good.”
Until Pirates leadoff batter Corey Dickerson stepped in.
“I went 2-0 to the first batter,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘All right. This is real. I’ve got to just pitch. This is the big leagues, but I’ve got to do what I love and pitch.”
Five innings later, Wilson left the game after allowing just three hits, no runs and three walks, while striking out five. The performance was good enough to earn him his first career win.
“It was all I could ask for,” he said. “I just wanted to go out, put up a good quality start and put the team in a situation to win.”
Things got tense in his final inning. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, Wilson allowed two runners to reach with one out. After a brief mound visit, Wilson faced Dickerson again.
“In the back of my mind, I knew I was one pitch away,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to keep making good pitches. (Dickerson) had seen my fastball and change-up on his first two at-bats. So I was able to get a slider in there and get him to roll it over into a double play.”
Then, instead of hitting the showers, Wilson decided to watch the rest of the game.
“I went back to the dugout and was super happy,” he said. “I went out and shook everybody’s hand. It was good to be with the team.”
He was also thrilled that his parents were in the stands.
“It was really comforting for them to be there,” he said. “If I could have anyone at the game, it was those two. I’m glad they could make it. That calmed my nerves a little bit.”
Then, Wilson was on the road again, heading back to Durham to rejoin Gwinnett and have his triumphant homecoming, just without taking the DBAP mound.
“I can’t really say I’m disappointed,” he said. “Obviously, this alternative was much better.”